Debate on ACTA Heats up On Eve of Critical Committee Vote

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has been an an agreement we’ve been following for years. All eyes are currently on Europe with a critical committee vote to be held tomorrow. The committee in question arguably has a lot of sway and could affect the final vote in the European Parliament. The committee vote is already reportedly going to be a tight one.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

A lot of people are watching the European Parliament’s The International Affairs committee tomorrow. A vote is currently scheduled tomorrow on whether or not the European government should approve or reject the secretive international agreement ACTA. The early reports we brought you last Saturday suggested that the vote will be close and the outcome could be anyone’s guess. It’s an interesting development considering earlier this month, ACTA was rejected by a total of four other smaller committees.

Earlier this morning, we reported on the rumors that a request would be put in to have the vote be held in secret. This was on the backdrop of millions of European citizens writing in petitions urging the Union to reject ACTA altogether because it violated fundamental rights.

In spite of such widespread opposition and the grim prospects that ACTA will even survive, there are those still pushing to get ACTA passed anyway. New Europe is reporting that the European Trade commissioner is urging MEPs (Member of European Parliament) to not reject ACTA:

European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, has made an eleventh hour attempt to urge the European Parliament not to reject the terms of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreemnt (ACTA).

Appearing before the parliament’s trade committee on 20 June, he urged MEPs not to reject the controversial act, which has been sent to referral to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) at the request of the parliamentarians.

[…]

De Gucht, however, was adamant in his defence of ACTA, arguing that, as a piece of legislation, it was vital to upholding the “rights and freedoms” of European citizens. He rejected suggestions that it would make practices that are legal today suddenly illegal in the future, but, he said, “freedom needs framework”.

He said he was not in favour of “government by the court”, and said that the act was one of the ways that European business could bring itself out of its current economic crisis.

He added that if the trade committee delivered a negative vote, the commission would still be bound to continue on its current legislative path, regardless of MEPs concerns. However, he did suggest that the commission was willing to re-examine certain provisions in the act, such as the definition of ‘commercial scale’ and ‘information-sharing’.

Of course, MEPs are not waiting on the committee vote to have their voices heard. The Hollywood Reporter noted that one MEP commented on how ACTA was very likely to be rejected:

ACTA is dead in the water, at least in Europe. That’s the opinion of Alexander Alvaro, a member of the European Parliament who has been active in defending civil liberties in the European debate over the controversial pan-national copyright legislation.

[…]

“I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say I expect the parliament will reject ACTA,” Alvaro said, speaking at a discussion about copyright and piracy at German media conference Medienforum NRW. “Are we justified in rejecting ACTA? No,” he asked, rhetorically. “Is it sensible to do so? Yes.”

Alvaro argued that the ACTA would be compatible with German and European law but that the process of shaping and debating the legislation “that will affect about 1 billion people worldwide” has been secretive and undemocratic. 
“Legislation that impacts such a large portion of the world’s population can’t be decided by a small group without the cooperation of these people and transparency,” he said.

PCWorld also notes that various parties are already making their positions clear:

The European People’s Party said on Wednesday that it will call for the main plenary vote to be postponed until after the ECJ has ruled. The European Conservatives and Reformists group said it, too, will vote for a delay. “We can’t just move the goalposts,” said Syed Kamall. He added, however, that the group still has concerns about the agreement.

The Socialists and Democrats parliamentary group highlighted its concerns with the agreement. According to the group, ACTA would force ISPs to act as the police force of the Internet, the definition of commercial scale is not well defined and is therefore potentially dangerous, and the sanctions for breach of copyright are not proportional.

The Greens pointed out that they had asked for a referral to the ECJ during the negotiations, but said they had listened to citizens and would vote to reject ACTA. Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, Niccolo Rinaldi said that postponing the final vote would show weakness in the Parliament. While the United European Left’s Helmut Scholz said his group will vote to reject ACTA, which he described as “an attempt by the few to control the many”.

As we reported last month, ACTA was officially sent to the European Court of Justice so that a court could answer whether or not the secretive agreement would violate basic fundamental rights in Europe. Proponents of ACTA are no doubt concerned that the European Parliament could reject ACTA before the courts made their decision on whether or not it violated a number of fundamental rights.

So, a lot of signs point to the European Parliament rejecting the agreement right now. Those signs have been very consistent for weeks now. What we don’t know is how the committee is going to vote tomorrow. Judging by the ACTA supporters, they may be very worried that ACTA could be rejected in the committee. No doubt, that could be the second to last blow to ACTA before the agreement is finally killed off. ACTA supporters haven’t been able to say that a committee has been supportive of the agreement so far, so they are no doubt looking for something, anything, that would give an encouraging sign for their side of the debate.

We’ll be watching the closely to see which way the committee will be voting.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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